American Reporter Held by Iran Since Last Summer Facing Espionage Charges
Shortly after the P5+1 victory lap in Switzerland over a nuclear framework, Iran has finally revealed charges against an American held in custody since last summer.
Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian, a California native who reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home. His wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a reporter for UAE English-language newspaper The National, was also detained and released in October.
According to the semi-official Fars News Agency, Rezaian will be brought before Iran's Revolutionary Court on charges of espionage and "acting against national security."
The report claimed that the journalist sold information to unnamed Americans. "Selling Iran's economic and industrial information at a time of sanctions is exactly like selling food to the enemy at a time of war," Fars said.
Rezaian was reportedly indicted on mystery charges in January and was unable to consult with an attorney for months. He’s been held in solitary confinement and reportedly needed blood-pressure medication as well as treatment for a severe eye infection.
Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron called the charges "absurd."
“It has been nearly nine months since Jason was arrested,” Baron said. “Now comes word via an Iranian news agency that Jason will face espionage charges. Any charges of that sort would be absurd, the product of fertile and twisted imaginations."
"We are left to repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Jason and, in the meantime, we are counting on his lawyer to mount a vigorous defense.”
That lawyer came on board the case only at the beginning of March. The Rezaian family's first choice of lawyer was a man experienced in such cases, but the judiciary in Iran would not allow him to take the case.
“After nine months of illegal detention, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency has written a lengthy article about its displeasure at two of the attendees at my father’s funeral in California in 2011 and Jason’s acquaintances in 2006,” Jason's brother, Ali, said in a statement Sunday, referring to the report that linked the WaPo reporter to Iranian journalists and human-rights activists in exile who've written against the regime.
“If this is truly Iran’s justification for Jason’s nine months of detention, all Iranians regardless of their country of residence or political affiliation should be embarrassed by this continued injustice.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that "on the sidelines of the ongoing conversations that there have been occasional discussions about the U.S. belief that those Americans who are unjustly held in Iran should be released."
In addition to Rezaian, there's Marine vet Amir Hekmati, seized while visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011; Saeed Abedini, who was convicted in January 2013 for establishing Christian house churches; and Bob Levinson, who went missing off the coast of Iran eight years ago while working as a private investigator. Levinson's family later received images of him in captivity.
"We've made our views on that known very clearly to the Iranians... And we continue to have concerns about that. And we're going to continue to advocate for their release. In fact, we're going to insist upon it," Earnest said.
"Now, at the same time, you know, I've also been pretty clear about the fact that we do not anticipate that we're going to be able to resolve our long list of differences with Iran in the context of these nuclear negotiations. But it does not mean that the -- our efforts to secure the release of these Americans is not a priority."
He stressed that those efforts are "separate from our efforts to try to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
"We continue to be in touch with the families of those who are being held to make sure that they understand that as well."